Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Third Time's A Charm: Mayor Menino Blasts BC's Undergraduate Housing Plan For Third Straight Day

Three days, three stories. A three-day news cycle. Mayor Thomas Menino is extremely unhappy with Boston College, their institutional master plan, and the "arrogance" of the university's leaders.

Monday, Banker & Tradesman reported that Mayor Menino called BC's plan to house all their undergraduates "double speak" -- because they would do so partly with off-campus, not on-campus, housing. Tuesday, the Boston Herald refers to his dislike for BC's tactics in trying to win approval for their IMP, particularly the email and/or letter that they sent to alumni asking those in Boston to contact city and elected officials to express their opinions on the IMP.

And now, in Wednesday's edition of the Boston Globe (advance version on, Mayor Menino blasts the overall process that BC has followed in dealing with the neighborhood and city officials:
More broadly, Menino deplored BC's tactics in advancing their proposals, saying the college has not heeded doubts expressed by the neighborhood and the city.

"Confrontation doesn't work," he said. "I'm saying to them, 'Let's work together and stop pitting people against each other.' There has to be a balance between the interests of the city and the college."

While Mayor Menino expressed similar dislike for BC's tactics in Tuesday's Herald article, he went a step further in Wednesday's Globe article by expressing outright opposition to two of BC's proposals: conversion of the recently-purchased apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue into an off-campus undergraduate dormitory and construction of undergraduate "Brighton Dorms" on the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC from the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004-7:
In a wide-ranging and sharply worded criticism of the plan, Menino said that he squarely opposes the college's recent proposal to convert a high-rise apartment building about one-third of a mile from the Jesuit university's main Chestnut Hill campus into a dormitory.

Menino also faulted BC's plans to build new dorms on property it purchased from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and disputed the college's contention that it cannot fit more students on its traditional campus.

"I want them to build on the campus they have right now, not buy up property and turn it into a dormitory," he said in an interview.
At Monday night's public meeting of the BC Neighbors Forum, there was some discussion about the extent of the Mayor's opposition to either or both of BC's housing proposals. His direct quotation as it appeared in the Banker & Tradesman story did not express outright opposition to either proposal, but instead he said that he would "rather see them live up to their commitment to house all of the students on campus.” Maybe only a preference -- possibly even a strong preference -- but not clear opposition.

The Globe story put such word parsing to bed. Mayor Menino opposes both, unequivocally. And, on top of that, he wants BC to find space on their main campus in order to locate the new dorms adjacent to their current dorms.

A Tale of Two Letters

Tuesday I wrote of a June 24, 2008 letter written by Fr. William Leahy, S. J., President of Boston College, to BC alumni. The letter appears to have been sent to an Atlanta alumnus, who wrote about it on his "Eagle in Atlanta" blog on June 26th. The letter reads, in part:
In particular, I ask that those of you who are residents of Boston express your support to elected officials, especially district city councilors and the BRA.
That language makes it clear that the letter is addressed to some alumni who live outside of Boston, but that the request for an expression of support was only made to those recipients who are also residents of Boston.

Wednesday's Globe story refers to a June 27, 2008 letter:
Menino took particular exception to a recent effort by BC administrators to lobby city officials in support of the plan. In a June 27 letter, president William P. Leahy wrote that it would be "most beneficial to have expressions of support from Boston College alumni and employees who live in the city of Boston."
Those words quoted by the Globe in the June 27th letter do not appear in the June 24th letter, hence they appear to be two different letters -- not a separate mailing of the same letter nor a mixed-up date in the Globe story. (UPDATE: a reader provided a copy of the June 27th letter, which indicates it is wholly distinct from the June 24th one. The text is not only different, but the June 27th letter also includes a long list of contact names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for municipal officials as well as city and state elected officials.)

When Jack Dunn, Director of Public Affairs at BC, told the Globe that "Leahy's letter was sent only to BC employees and graduates who live in Allston-Brighton, as well as a small number of graduates who live in other parts of the city," it is more likely that he was referring only to the June 27th letter -- while presumably selectively avoiding discussing the June 24th letter (which appears to have been distributed more widely).

Boston Herald Weighs In, But Misses the Story

The Boston Herald came in with another article Wednesday, "Mayor: BC off track with dorm plan," in which they report that Mayor Menino "stopped short of saying BC needs to back out of the apartment-building deal" which closed last Monday. "They've purchased it... I'll always work with BC," said Mayor Menino.

The Herald's reporting did not note, however, whether or not the Mayor supports BC's proposal to convert their newly-purchased apartment building into an undergraduate dormitory -- a glaring omission.

Wednesday's Globe story filled in the gaps by noting his opposition to the dormitory conversion plan, not the purchase itself. "I want them to build on the campus they have right now, not buy up property and turn it into a dormitory," he said.

Image of Boston Globe by ckirkman provided through a Creative Commons license.

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